Saint Lucia is a sovereign island country in the West Indies in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean.
The island was previously called Iyonola, the name given to the island by the native Amerindians and later, Hewanorra, the name given by the native Caribs. Part of the Lesser Antilles, it is located north/northeast of the island of Saint Vincent, northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique. It covers a land area of 617 km2 (238 square miles) and reported a population of 165,595 in the 2010 census.
Its capital is Castries.
The French were the island’s first European settlers. They signed a treaty with the native Island Caribs in 1660. England took control of the island from 1663 to 1667. In ensuing years, it was at war with France fourteen times, and the rule of the island changed frequently (it was ruled seven times each by the French and British). In 1814, the British took definitive control of the island. Because it switched so often between British and French control, Saint Lucia was also known as the “Helen of the West Indies” after the Greek mythology “Helen of Troy”.
Representative government came about in 1840 (universal suffrage was established in 1953). From 1958 to 1962, the island was a member of the West Indies Federation. On 22 February 1979, Saint Lucia became an independent state and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Saint Lucia is a mixed jurisdiction, meaning that it has a legal system based in part on both the civil law and English common law. The Civil Code of St. Lucia of 1867 was based on the Quebec Civil Code of 1866, as supplemented by English common law-style legislation. It is also a member of Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.
Saint Lucia is a Commonwealth realm. Elizabeth II is Queen of Saint Lucia, represented on the island by a governor-general. The prime minister is normally the head of the party commanding the support of the majority of the members of the House of Assembly, which has 17 seats. The other chamber of Parliament, the Senate, has eleven appointed members.
The districts of the island, established by the French colonial government and continued by the British, are:
Anse la Raye, 31.0 km²
Castries, 79.5 km²
Choiseul, 31.3 km²
Dennery, 69.7 km²
Laborie, 37.8 km²
Micoud, 77.7 km²
Soufrière, 50.5 km²
Vieux Fort, 43.8 km
An additional area is the Forest Reserve Area Quarter (78.3 km²).
The volcanic island of Saint Lucia is more mountainous than most Caribbean islands, with the highest point being Mount Gimie, at 950 metres (3,120 feet) above sea level. Two other mountains, the Pitons, form the island’s most famous landmark. They are located between Soufrière and Choiseul on the western side of the island. Saint Lucia is the only island in the world that contains a drive-in volcano.
The capital city of Saint Lucia is Castries (population 60,263) where 32.4% of the population lives. Major towns include Gros Islet, Soufrière, and Vieux Fort.
A species of lizard, Anolis luciae, is named for and is endemic to Saint Lucia.
Saint Lucia reported a population of 165,595 in the 2010 national census. In 2016, the United Nations Population Division estimated Saint Lucia’s population at 178,015. The country’s population is evenly divided between urban and rural areas, with more than a third living in the capital, Castries.
Despite a high emigration rate, the population is growing rapidly at about 1.2% per year. Migration from Saint Lucia is primarily to Anglophone countries, with the United Kingdom having almost 10,000 Saint Lucian-born citizens, and over 30,000 of Saint Lucian heritage. The second most popular destination for Saint Lucian émigrés is the United States, where a combined (foreign and national-born Saint Lucians) almost 14,000 reside. Canada is home to a few thousand Saint Lucians.
Saint Lucia’s population is predominantly of African and mixed African-European-Carib descent, with a small Indo-Caribbean minority (3%). Members of other or unspecified ethnic groups, account for about 2% of the population.
The official language is English. Saint Lucian French Creole (Kwéyòl), which is colloquially referred to as Patois (“Patwa”), is spoken by 95% of the population. This Antillean Creole is used in literature and music, and is gaining official acknowledgement. As it developed during the early period of French colonisation, the creole is derived chiefly from French and West African languages, with some vocabulary from the Island Carib language and other sources.Haiti, The Republic of Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guyana/cayenne, Seychelles and Mauritius speak the same creole with a few words being different. Saint Lucia is a member of La Francophonie.
Christopher Columbus may have sighted the island during his fourth voyage in 1502, since he made landfall on Martinique, yet he does not mention the island in his log.
Juan de la Cosa noted the island on his map of 1500, calling it El Falcon, and another island to the south Las Agujas. A Spanish cédula from 1511 mentions the island within the Spanish domain, and a globe in the Vatican made in 1520, shows the island as Sancta Lucia.
A 1529 Spanish map shows S. Luzia. One of the Windward Islands, Saint Lucia was named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse (AD 283 – 304). It is the only country in the world named after a historical woman (Ireland is named after the Celtic goddess of fertility Eire).
Legend states French sailors were shipwrecked here on 13 December, the feast day of St. Lucy, thus naming the island in honor of Sainte Lucie.
In the late 1550s, the French pirate François le Clerc (known as Jambe de Bois, due to his wooden leg) set up a camp on Pigeon Island, from where he attacked passing Spanish ships. In 1605, an English vessel called the Oliphe Blossome was blown off-course on its way to Guyana, and the 67 colonists started a settlement on Saint Lucia, after initially being welcomed by the Carib chief Anthonie. By 26 September 1605, only 19 survived, after continued attacks by the Carib chief Augraumart, so they fled the island.
In 1664, Thomas Warner (son of Sir Thomas Warner, the governor of St Kitts) claimed Saint Lucia for England. He brought 1,000 men to defend it from the French, but after two years, only 89 survived with the rest dying mostly due to disease. In 1666, the French West India Company resumed control of the island, which in 1674 was made an official French crown colony as a dependency of Martinique.
18th and 19th century
Both the British and the French found the island attractive after the sugar industry developed, and during the 18th century the island changed ownership or was declared neutral territory a dozen times, although the French settlements remained and the island was a de facto French colony well into the eighteenth century.
In 1722, George I of Great Britain granted both Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent to The 2nd Duke of Montagu. He in turn appointed Nathaniel Uring, a merchant sea captain and adventurer, as deputy-governor. Uring went to the islands with a group of seven ships, and established settlement at Petit Carenage. Unable to get enough support from British warships, he and the new colonists were quickly run off by the French.
During the Seven Years’ War, Britain occupied Saint Lucia for a year. Britain handed the island back to the French at the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Like the English and Dutch on other islands, the French began to develop the land for the cultivation of sugar cane as a commodity crop on large plantations in 1765.
In January 1791, during the French Revolution, the National Assembly sent four commissaries to St. Lucia to spread the revolution philosophy. By August 1791, slaves began to abandon their estates and Governor de Gimat fled. In December 1792, Lt. Jean-Baptiste Raymond de Lacrosse arrived with revolutionary pamphlets, and the impoverished whites and free people of color began to arm themselves as patriots. On 1 February 1793, France declared war on England and Holland, and General Nicolas Xavier de Ricard took over as Governor. The National Convention abolished enslavement on 4 February 1794, but St. Lucia fell to a British invasion led by Vice Admiral John Jervis on 1 April 1794. Morne Fortune became Fort Charlotte. Soon, a patriot army of resistance, L’Armee Francaise dans les Bois, began to fight back. Thus started the First Brigand War.
A short time later the British invaded the island as a part of the recently broken out war with France. On 21 February 1795 and a group of locals under the nominal control of Victor Hugues defeated a battalion of British troops at Vieux Fort and Rabot. In 1796, Castries was burned as part of the conflict. General John Moore retook Fort Charlotte in 1796 with the 27th Inniskilling Fusiliers after two days of bitter fighting. As an honour, the Fusiliers’ regimental colour was displayed on the flagstaff of the captured fortress at Morne Fortune for an hour before being replaced by the Union Jack. Moore would then participate in British efforts to repress the slave rebels until falling ill of yellow fever, upon which he returned to Britain before 1798.
In 1803, the British regained control of the island. Many of the rebels escaped into the thick rainforest where they evaded capture and established maroon communities.
The slavery on the island was continued for a short time, but anti-slavery sentiment was rising in Britain. The British stopped the import of slaves by anyone, white or coloured, when they abolished the slave trade in 1807.
France and Great Britain continued to contest Saint Lucia until the British secured it in 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris ending the Napoleonic Wars. Thereafter, Saint Lucia was considered part of the British Windward Islands colony.
The institution of slavery was abolished on the island in 1836, as it was throughout the British Empire. After abolition, all former slaves had to serve a four-year “apprenticeship,” to accustom them to the idea of freedom. During this period, they worked for their former masters for at least three-quarters of the work week. Full freedom was duly granted by the British in 1838. By that time, people of African ethnicity greatly outnumbered those of ethnic European background. Some people of Carib descent also comprised a minority on the island.
Castries’ harbour was protected by a system of 60 surrounding forts. Along the top of Morne Fortune there are six military sites, building work by the French started in 1768, and the British completed the work by 1890. They include Fort Charlotte (Old Morne Fortress), the Apostle’s Battery (1888–1890), The Powder Magazine built by the French in the 1750s, Provost’s Redoubt (1792) built as a lookout point, and the Combermere barracks.
The best preserved installation is a battery at La Toc Point, completed in 1888 it was not abandoned till 1905. This fort in particular was built by the British to repel any attack from the United States on the then valuable coaling harbour of Castries.
20th and 21st century
In the mid-twentieth century, Saint Lucia joined the West Indies Federation (1958–1962) when the colony was dissolved. In 1967, Saint Lucia became one of the six members of the West Indies Associated States, with internal self-government. In 1979, it gained full independence under Sir John Compton of the conservative United Workers party (UWP), who served as prime minister from 1982 to 1996, after which he was succeeded by Vaughan Lewis.
Much of the scenery for the film Dr. Dolittle was shot here in 1967. Water was shot here, as were parts of Firepower.
Dr. Kenny Davis Anthony of the Labour Party was prime minister from 1997 to 2006. In 2006, the UWP, again led by Compton, won control of parliament. In May 2007, after Compton suffered a series of small strokes, Finance and External Affairs Minister Stephenson King became acting prime minister and succeeded Compton as prime minister when the latter died in September 2007. In November 2011, Kenny Anthony was re-elected as prime minister for a third time. In the June 2016 elections the United Worker’s Party (UWP) assumed power again, with Allen Chastanet as prime minister.
Tourism is vital to Saint Lucia’s economy. Its economic importance is expected to continue to increase as the market for bananas becomes more competitive. Tourism tends to be more substantial during the dry season (January to April). Saint Lucia tends to be popular due to its tropical weather and scenery and its numerous beaches and resorts.
Other tourist attractions include a drive-in volcano, Sulphur Springs (in Soufrière), the Botanical Gardens, the Majestic twin Peaks “The Pitons”, a world heritage site, the rain forests, several options of boat trips, zip lining and Pigeon Island National Park, which is home to Fort Rodney, an old British military base.
The majority of tourists visit Saint Lucia as part of a cruise. Most of their time tends to be spent in Castries, although Soufriere, Marigot Bay, Rodney Bay and Gros Islet are popular locations to visit.
The current Minister of Tourism is Dominic Fedee, he has been in his role since 2016.
The culture of Saint Lucia has been influenced by African, East Indian, French, and English heritage. One of the secondary languages is Saint Lucian French Creole or Kwéyòl, spoken by almost all of the population.
Saint Lucia boasts the second highest ratio of Nobel laureates produced with respect to the total population of any sovereign country in the world. Two winners have come from Saint Lucia: Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, and the poet Derek Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.
Saint Lucian cultural festivals include La Rose and La Marguerite, the first representing a native Saint Lucian fraternal society known as the Order of the Rose that is fashioned in the mould of Rosicrucianism, and the second representing its traditional rival, the native Saint Lucian equivalent of Freemasonry known as the Order of the Marguerite. References to their origins as versions of pre-existing external secret societies can be seen in a mural painted by Dunstan St Omer, depicting the holy trinity of Osiris, Horus, and Isis.
The biggest festival of the year is the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival. Held in early May at multiple venues throughout the island, it draws visitors and musicians from around the world. The grand finale or main stage is held at the Pigeon Island which is located to the North of the Island.
Traditionally in common with other Caribbean countries, Saint Lucia held a carnival before Lent. In 1999, the government moved Carnival to mid-July to avoid competing with the much larger Trinidad and Tobago carnival and so as to attract more overseas visitors.
In May 2009, Saint Lucians commemorated the 150th Anniversary of West Indian Heritage on the island.
Music and dance
Together with Caribbean music genres such as Calypso, Soca, Dancehall, Reggae, Compas, Zouk, and Salsa, Saint Lucia has a strong indigenous folk music tradition. Each May since 1991, Saint Lucia has hosted an internationally renowned Jazz Festival. In 2013, the festival was re-branded The Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival which encompassed culture, visual art, alternative music, education, fashion, and food.
Dancing in Saint Lucia is inspired by Caribbean culture and enjoys an active following. A popular folk dance is the Kwadril.
Saint Lucia’s national dish is green figs and saltfish.
The island’s cuisine is a unique blend of West African, European (mainly British and French) and East Indian cuisine; this creates dynamic meal dishes such as macaroni pie, Stew chicken, rice and peas, fish broth or fish water, and soups packed full with fresh locally produced vegetables. Typical essential foodstuffs are potatoes, onions, celery, thyme, coconut milk, the very hot scotch bonnet peppers, flour, and cornmeal. All mainstream meat and poultry are eaten in St. Lucia; meat and seafood are normally stewed and browned to create a rich gravy sometimes served over ground provisions or rice. The island is also home to the famous fried dough, known by many as a bake or Johnny Cake. These bakes can be served with different sides, such as saltfish which is either sautéed or lightly fried along with red, green peppers, onions, and seasoned well. This is the most common way for bake to be prepared, though it can also be served with meats such as stewed chicken or beef.
One popular Saint Lucian dessert is the pastry called a turnover. The pastry is made with sweetened coconut that is boiled with spices, some sugar, and whatever is satisfying. It is boiled until cooked to a light or dark brown colour; then the mixture is separated into various size portions placed on a rolled out piece of dough. The dough size may vary too depending on how much is desired, and lastly, it is baked in the oven until the colour of the turnover is nicely browned.
Due to Saint Lucia’s Indo-Caribbean population, curry is very popular; however due to the blend of cooking styles, curry dishes have a distinct Caribbean twist. Roti is typically served as a fast food meal: the bread itself is very flat (sometimes very thin) and is wrapped around curried vegetables such as chickpeas and potato, seafood such as shrimp and conch, or meats such as chicken, beef, goat, and liver.